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opirg mcmaster

ontario public interest research group


ont a r i o pu b l i c i nt e re s t re s e a rc h g roup - m c m a s t e r

w e l c o m e !


elcome to PIRGspectives! a print portal into the daily workings and diversity of interests represented at OPIRG McMaster. As another writer put it: “OPIRG McMaster is all about linking research with action. They are not very separate.” To back that claim, here you will learn about a campaign to restore a wetland paved over for McMaster parking, read about successful projects like an art show celebrating diversity, empowering Food For Life cooking classes, Threadwork clothing exchanges, tangible steps on water security, students sharing skills and learning about poverty with local agencies through Community Volunteer Action, and what it feels like to be a Freeskool organizer. With the help of volunteer writers we also get to know key people like Shelley Porteous, OPIRG’s office coordinator, and Preeti Nayak, OPIRG’s Alternative Welcome Week Coordinator. PIRGspectives is also happy to have two works by Ben Robinson to help us see the world through poetic eyes, and graphic design skill of AiLi Wang with her Cars or Cootes poster We are also excited to share words of experience from one of North America’s most practiced nonviolent activists, Staughton Lynd, in his open Letter to Other Occupiers. We recall fondly Staughton’s visit to Hamilton and his standing-room-only address on campus in February 2001. This is also a good time to thank our contributors: our contributing working groups: Body Equity, Community Volunteer Action, Food For Life, Freeskool, MI Water, Threadwork; our volunteer writers Bianca Curutan and Ben Robinson; and volunteer editors: Bianca Curutan, Christina Vietinghoff, Danielle Moed, and Mike Borrelli. Coordinator of Volunteers Randy Kay took care of the layout. We hope you enjoy, learn and benefit from what you find in these pages. With Thanks, rk

CONTENTS POSTER: Cars or Cootes, by AiLi Wang.……..........15 Parking Paradise by Bianca Curutan…………………3 A Letter to Other Occupiers, by Staughton Lynd.....16 Food For Life by Food For Life……………………….4 POETRY: Enviro Enemies by Ben Robinson………....5 Clothing Swap by Threadwork………………………..6 Shelley Porteous by Bianca Curutan………………….7 Celebrating Diversity by Amanda Watkins…………..8 Turning the Taps on a Good Year by Kumar Jadoo…..9 Preeti Nayak by Bianca Curutan……………………...10 Cleaning to Contribute by Maureen Elliott…………..11 First Steps in Resistance by Hamilton Freeskool……..12 POETRY: I don’t shoot the gun, by Ben Robinson…...14

Paved Paradise By Bianca Curutan

A place of majesty, serenity, exploration, and research – all this and more describe the sanctuary that is Cootes Paradise. Residents and visitors are often awestruck by its natural beauty and appreciative of the quiet respite it offers in the Steel City. Cootes Paradise, named after Captain Thomas Coote, a British naval officer, is the largest remaining coastal marsh at the western end of Lake Ontario.

with it several stressors that, over time, had a cumulative impact on the natural abundance of Cootes Paradise and its neighbouring marshes. More time passed until finally, in the 1960s, McMaster University bought a portion of the property from the RBG to convert the wetlands into parking spots. This area eventually became Lot M on the west end of campus. These parking spots may have been needed at one time, but not anymore. As such, vacant parking lots such as Lot M are starting to be acknowledged by the McMaster and Hamilton communities to be put to other uses so as to save money and save the natural environment. As part of the six principles and foundations for its campus plan, McMaster University discourages driving to campus if possible; this is evident in the sustainability foci and rather high parking prices. Even during peak periods, the total number used parking spots on campus these days do not come close to the total capacity of 4,276. Averaging around 66% capacity, this fact helped to spur the Restore Cootes campaign.

The campaign, founded by Randy Kay of OPIRG McMaster, is a multi-disciplinary collaborative experiment to reclaim Coldspring Valley Nature Sanctuary from parking with a goal to restore a degraded wetland and advance Owned and managed by the Royal Botanical Gardens learning onsite at McMaster (RGB) since the 1930s, it boasts an University. According The original designers of impressive staircase to climb, a large McMaster meant for the campus to Kay, “The original array of flora and fauna (including to be ‘indistinguishable from the designers of McMaster several endangered species such as meant for the campus to neighbouring Royal Botanical the prothonotary warbler and least be ‘indistinguishable from bittern) to admire, and much more Garden parkland’. the neighbouring Royal besides. Its numerous hiking trails Botanical Garden parkland’. include the well-known Waterfront We lost a big chunk of that when the RBG’s Trail which follows the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. valley was paved to park cars. The conditions Lawrence River and connects communities from Niagaraare right to get that wetland back and McMaster on-the-Lake to the Québec border. has the expertise to do it as a living laboratory for research. The future is nature restoration, There was a time, however, when Cootes Paradise was even improved water quality, dynamic habitat, not larger and richer in natural resources than it is today. As ease of parking, should McMaster make that early as the 1800s, Cootes offered abundant fishing and choice”. hunting opportunities, fertile farmland, and convenient access to water. However, human settlement brought continued


Fortunately, this is not the only campaign of its kind. In fact, there are various projects that are currently in progress to restore Cootes Paradise and its surrounding area to its original state, including the RGB’s Project Paradise and the Hamilton Harbour Fish and Wildlife Restoration Project, a joint research project by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Service, McMaster and Brock Universities, and the RGB. Although smaller in scope, the Restore Cootes campaign aspires to the same goal of advancing fish and wildlife habitat restoration and re-establishing the natural ecosystem.

For more information, please refer to the Restore Cootes blog at or the public Facebook group at restorecootes.


With currently over 60 members, the Food for Life working group is dedicated to teaching busy university students the necessary skills to cook healthy meals instead of the typical burger-and-fries option. The community cooking events typically take places every other weekend at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Westdale from noon to 2:00pm. These cooking events provide an opportunity for members to teach each other the ins-and-outs of cooking. As well, members get to socialize while devouring their wonderfully delectable creations. This year, the working group had a lot of fun exploring the food cultures of the world. The members had a taste of the orient, consuming a delicious Ma-Po tofu and Hainanese Chicken. Also on the menu were authentic Ukrainian perogies and cabbage rolls. To placate our sweet tooth, the working group then had a hugely popular session, indulging in French crepes – a savory bacon and ricotta cheese crepe, followed by a dessert crepe with strawberries, bananas, blueberries, and peaches, topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.


paddles plough through placid streams leaving a wake of shattered glass and reedy hair torn from the river’s scalp. arrive at rocky stream where scarred canoes bleed out all over stone. dragged back to the depths. the invasion commences. up the pre-fab steps and into the forest farm. the conservative reserves where row upon row of (im)plants Have been morphed and molded To suit our interests. The wilderness heard we were on our way So mother gave him a shower and shave. Little did they know,


By Ben Robinson

We would shit on the floor And piss in the plants Burn down the walls And litter in the living room. Eat the children And poison her pets. And then having shattered the Canadian shield, take our leave. Ancaster Creek C1950Image courtesy Royal Botancial Gardens



Founded in 2010 by a group of Mac students, is a McMaster OPIRG working group that encourages individuals to think critically about clothing and its implications on the environment, social justice, and the community. Threadwork hosts a CLOTHING SWAP each term. Clothing collection is done in advance and culminates in a SWAP DAY, where individuals who have donated items may trade in “tickets� for an opportunity to find previously used treasures! Tickets are given out at the time of donation based on quantity and quality. All leftover clothing is given to charity.

To get involved or learn more, contact us at:


Shelley Porteous OPIRG Office Coordinator

By Bianca Curutan

Bianca: What is it like being involved in OPIRG? Shelley: In some ways it feels like a very sheltered environment, because I have only ever had the pleasure of working with absolutely the most amazing people over the years – students and others who truly put their heart and soul into making this world a better place for everyone. Bianca: How did you originally get involved in OPIRG? Have you ever been involved in other chapters? Shelley: I studied Anthropology at Western and prepared a research paper for the PIRG there at the time which examined the environmental and social effects of the coal-fired power plant in Nanticoke (as I grew up in that area). Bianca: What is your role and/or are your responsibilities? Shelley: My official title is Office Co-ordinator. I represent OPIRG on various committees, such as the Anti-Violence Network. I help to organize special events, as well as annual offerings, such as the Fair Trade Fest, the Living the Environment Conference (for high school students), and the Open House. I assist with the Resource Library and with the hiring and supervision of student staff. I attend Board meetings at both the local and provincial level. I help out with all the nittygritty of daily office maintenance, etc. etc. Bianca: Which projects/work groups are you currently involved in? Shelley: I have been a member of the Guatemala Working Group for the past ten years. I have had the opportunity to travel with union/solidarity tours to Guatemala on several occasions, meeting with union activists and Indigenous leaders. It has been a humbling experience to meet with these people who peacefully defend the rights of

Shelley watering the green roof workers and struggle to protect the cultural rights of the Indigenous Mayan population. To be an activist in Guatemala quite literally means to put your life on the line. Bianca: Do you have any special/memorable experiences with OPIRG that you would like to share? Shelley: I am so fortunate that working with OPIRG McMaster has enabled me to pursue many of my own interests, one of which has been lending support in a small way to the work of Atzin. Atzin is a non-governmental organization working in the Indigenous community of Tlamacazapa, Mexico where most people live in absolute poverty. Atzin takes a holistic approach to healthy community development. Many of their programs focus on the needs of women and children. The women engage in traditional palm weaving and you will see that their wonderful and whimsical baskets always adorn our office. Atzin pays the women a fair price for their baskets and then supporting groups such as OPIRG will sell them, sending all the proceeds back to support the women’s weaving co-operative set-up by Atzin. In 2007, OPIRG was pivotal in bringing eight women from the community to Canada, where they were able to network with women’s organizations 7 continued

and native organizations, such as the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, etc. It was an exciting initiative, which gave many people here the opportunity to discover the story behind the baskets, meet the weavers and learn that Atzin does far more than facilitate income generating projects. Their other focus areas are health and wellness, education, and environment, water and sanitation. Atzin is really about empowering women and building community; essentially reweaving a life with hope and purpose.

event developed out of our desire to promote not only acceptance, but appreciation for the differences that each person has. We thought that an exhibit would call upon the universality of artwork to foster an environment of inclusiveness, imagination, and personal interpretation,” said Body Equity leader, Elyse Watkins.

Bianca: What advice would you give someone who is interested in getting involved with OPIRG? Shelley: OPIRG tackles really touchy issues and sometimes it can feel insurmountable. You need to step back and recognize all the good people and amazing efforts that are being made towards social change and environmental integrity; focus on the positive and not let the negative defeat you.

Elyse worked closely with Davey Hamada and representatives from the MSU Diversity Services, along with Body Equity’s group members, to organize the event and use the on-campus setting to reach out to the McMaster population in order to get their message heard. “Our main objective is to promote all peoples in a positive light and to encourage discussion about how we

A Night Celebrating


By Amanda Watkins

On Tuesday, February 28th, the Body Equity Working Group hosted their first art exhibition, “Embracing Diversity: A celebration of all peoples” at the on-campus Bridges Cafe. Body Equity began their existence with McMaster’s OPIRG branch three years ago as a group focused on self-empowerment, selfesteem, and developing a better understanding of individuality. This is done throughout the Hamilton community with workshops at local schools as well as on campus. This year the group decided to try something new and organize an event where they would be able to share their beliefs through the freedom and expression of art.


The group’s emphasis on acceptance and the importance of helping people embrace individuality gave rise to the theme of “Embracing Diversity”. “Our inspiration for this

as a community can experience diversity. We hope that the artwork will inspire conversation about how we can achieve equality and appreciation in our society,” said Elyse. Artists who showcased their work included: David Da Silva, Courtney Larmand, Alyson Lamanes, Lillian Jane Rundle, Kiara Weis, Sarah Salise, Justin Nusca, Ailish Corbett, MacPhoto, Davey Hamada and Elyse Watkins. The Howlin Monks band (Connor Bennett, Josh Weiner, Chris Ferguson and Aaron Hutchison) also performed at the event.

TURNING THE TAPS ON A GOOD YEAR By: Kumar Jadoo, McMaster Initiative for Water As an OPIRG working group, McMaster Initiative for Water (MI Water) has been striving in its first year of establishment to promote water awareness and preservation across the McMaster and Hamilton communities. As an initiative to help the struggling country of Guatemala with its current water crisis, the group teamed up alongside Global Water in their Healthy Schools Program. Adopting three schools (Paraje Paoj, Aldea Pitzal and Pologue) within a rural Guatemalan community, MI Water aimed to fundraise $1330.00 to support the construction of an eight faucet hand-washing station to provide the community with clean water. The club experienced quite an eventful year. Starting off their first term, MI Water teamed up with OPIRG’s McMaster Students for Social Justice to screen the Blue Gold: World Water Wars documentary in September. In the following month, the group took part in the Sustainability Fair here at McMaster University. As November came about with the fall coming to an end, MI Water joined the McMaster Outdoor Club in the Annual Cootes Paradise Clean-up and Native Shrub Planting. After a successful first term, the club returned after the Christmas break and actively took part in the McMaster Water Awareness week alongside McMaster Students for Social Justice, Paws@Mac and the McMaster Global Citizenship Conference Committee. The Water Awareness week included: - The re-screening of Blue Gold: World Water Wars documentary - A ‘Blue Community’ workshop - A presentation on the Ryan’s Well Foundation - A special panel presentation on the shark finning industry and ecological impact on oceans - The Global Citizenship Conference 2012 As the Water Awareness Week came to end, so did MI Water’s first year at McMaster. At the year’s end, the group had made approximately $720, through the combined efforts of four bake sales alongside the generous donations of countless students. Their hard work and determination has led them to raise half the amount needed to provide clean water to one of the rural communities of Guatemala, helping its 20 families and 40 students – a small, positive step in helping the country with its water crisis. They hope to continue building towards the full amount in the coming year. McMaster Initiative for Water sends it many thanks to the McMaster and Hamilton communities without which their efforts would have not succeeded. The communities’ efforts made MI Water’s success possible. Students sharing a passion for water conservation are welcome to join the group as MI Water is always looking for students to bring about new ideas and help the group further its impact both locally and internationally. Visit or follow them on Facebook group to keep up-to-date with the group’s progress.


Preeti Nayak

Alternative Welcome Week (AltWW) Co-ordinator By Bianca Curutan Bianca: Tell us a little about yourself. Preeti: My name is Preeti Nayak and I will be entering my fourth year in the fall. I will be finishing up an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Religious Studies. I hope to pursue a Master’s degree afterwards to explore issues relating to educational reform. I am very interested in work that involves research and community development. I enjoy being involved in the community and indulging myself in new experiences – whether it be through volunteering, travelling, etc. Bianca: What are your interests outside of school? Preeti: I love travelling, biking, photography, and cooking (and eating!). I am also a huge fan of South Asian fiction – short stories, novels, etc. which explore questions of identity and culture. As a South Asian Canadian, I find the idea of intersecting identities very fascinating, so I love being able to find great authors who can creatively express such narratives. For instance, I love Jhumpa Lahiri’s works (most notably, her novel The Namesake). I will also sheepishly admit that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. Besides reading, as mentioned, I am a fan of cooking. I love cooking up a storm and pretending I have culinary abilities, although I know that I don’t! In other words, I find pleasure in the act of cooking and eating food 10

that’s not mine. Bianca: How did you originally get involved with OPIRG? Preeti: I discovered OPIRG through Clubsfest in my second year of university. I began volunteering with them – tabling, canvassing, writing for the newsletter, etc. I was always amazed with the wonderful work they do at Mac and in the larger Hamilton community, so I was keen on helping advertise or promote events for them whenever I could. Then in my third year, I sought their support in organizing a social justice group, entitled “Mosaic”, which aimed to critique Canadian multiculturalism and address issues of diversity here at the university. Bianca: What is your current position? Preeti: Currently, I am the AltWW Co-ordinator for 2012 and I will be on the Board of Directors this coming fall. Bianca: What are you currently working on? Preeti: I am organizing events which will hopefully engage first year (and existing) students with social justice issues, including, but not limited to, local food movements, environmental

sustainability, socially conscious living, and issues of domestic violence, just to name a few. I am networking with contacts to develop the schedule for AltWW which will include an open mic night, educative workshops, movie screenings, guest speakers, and more! We hope we can engage students with the city and educate the community about various issues that affect us, as students, Hamiltonians, and global citizens. Stay tuned! Bianca: What advice do you have for students who wish to get involved? Preeti: Don’t hesitate! You won’t regret being involved. The OPIRG staff is so warm and welcoming – you’ll feel at home right away. It’s also a great learning experience; since OPIRG engages in a vast array of issues, the chances are you will end up educating yourself about subject matters you didn’t know about. OPIRG is probably the best organization I have gotten involved with at my time at Mac.

Cleaning to Contribute!

By Maureen Elliott 8:30AM on a Saturday morning – not the most likely time that you would find a university student up and at ‘em, prepared for a day of cleaning and hard labour. Yet, nonetheless, our team of 12 showed up donning sweats, ripped jeans, and smiles, all ready to take on the tasks ahead of us. Planning for CVA’s Volunteer-a-thon began early in the new 2012 semester with the hope of providing some much needed assistance to community organizations in Hamilton while connecting McMaster students with volunteer opportunities to help get them out of the McMaster bubble. Securing volunteering locations proved to be quite simple, demonstrating the need for volunteers and the desire of Hamilton’s community organizations to connect with hard working volunteers.

There was also much support from the Hamilton and McMaster communities through sponsors from Titles, OPIRG and Fortino’s, reaffirming the value the greater community placed in this event as well. When the day of the Volunteer-a-thon finally arrived, we caught the bus bright and early and headed to our respective placements – YMCA, Bereaved Families of Ontario, and The Welcome Inn Community Centre – arriving at 10am and getting straight to work! Because each of these agencies is a not-for-profit, they often have many cleaning and maintenance tasks which fall to the wayside because they simply do not have the resources to do everything that is needed. It was our intent to help to remedy this situation. From cleaning kitchens or exercise equipment, to organizing resource rooms, we definitely got our hands dirty! But, as they say, many hands really do make light work! At the end of the day, it was obvious that a lot had been accomplished. Beyond this, we received

glowing feedback from the volunteer agencies, thanking us for our contribution. Robin Barker of the YMCA said, “…the student volunteers [at the Volunteer-a-thon] were amazing. They were truly committed to putting a full day of effort in… please know it was greatly appreciated. Having a welcoming and clean environment goes a long way in helping us serve our members and community.” CVA’s Volunteer-a-thon is an annual event which is organized by student volunteers! Each year we hope that our contribution assists in aiding community organizations and also building and strengthening connections between the McMaster community and the greater Hamilton community. I believe that we were successful in our aim, and hope for the continued success of this project! The contributions of CVA’s volunteers never cease to inspire me. It is amazing how freely they give of their time, even with their extremely busy schedules, and how passionately they commit to each project! At its very core, CVA is supported and maintained by its volunteers, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their unwavering support and outstanding contributions! Community Volunteer Action is a working group of OPIRG, McMaster, and sponsored by MSU Open Circle. We are a network of volunteering groups where you volunteer weekly with other McMaster students at placements across Hamilton. Your group facilitator helps you find your way to the placement and facilitates discussion for 15 minutes after each volunteer session to help you reflect on your experiences and how these relate to larger societal issues. For more info: or www.

Top Photo YMCA -L to R: Jeff Druery, Sheree Gopie, Debi Banerjee and Adam Nightingale, picture by Robin Barker; Bottom Photo, Welcome Inn, L to R: Laura Crump, Aha Blume, Heather O’Halloran, Kevin Lee, Maureen Elliott - photo by Laurie Remillard


First Steps in Resistance


a feeling of wonder. I am going to die. So, what does that mean for right now? Does it mean I keep sitting? Perhaps. Does it mean I look outside of me for answers? Well, perhaps it means I’ll stand and watch while a stand of old cedars, “reflected upsidedown in the sunset lake pointing to infinity”, By Hamilton Freeskool – quotes from are cut. Jack Kerouac: Book of haikus. Ed. Regina Weinreich. Can it mean I can protect that forest instead? Penguin poets. New York. 2003. Print. With certainty, I feel I can learn all about them, and in turn myself by accepting death and First Steps in Resistance accepting who I am. Death is so predominate in a As time falls off the desk, I find myself struggling to healthy forest as it is in my life. I, too, am a forest. produce the words I need for this article representing I see a fallen tree as life on the floor of a healthy Hamilton Freeskool. I am ripe with anticipation that land base. With help, it picks up the nutrients something huge will fall out of me, “like a dreamy crap”, of life and redistributes them in an equal and and I will change the world with a simple article. But, discerning way. My body will do the same. I will who am I to think that? Who am I? Jack Kerouac? give back in death. And, with that knowledge I First, I want to acknowledge the privilege that comes can give back in life. I can protect the forest. Now, with being able to have the time and skills I hold to this sentiment can go to protecting / cultivating answer the question “who am I?” However, I feel within / continuing anything the reader feels is vital in this article I will make a positive effort to distribute the their life. Therefore, I ask, who are you? wealth of knowledge I gain from self-discovery. Fortunately, I am The reader will be asked and Freeskool challenges the place of directed into becoming an active conventional learning institutions as the having an easier time finding the words I need participant in day to day life. The only path to knowledge. if readers get stuck on reader will be asked to think of that question. I’ll continue creative outcomes for their role my answer myself. I am a dreamer. I am a driven in perpetuating the status quo, a culture of privilege and hardworking individual with a nose for success. violence. The reader will be requested to check out the I am “one flower on the cliffside nodding at the values and tactics of Hamilton freeskool and how they canyon”. I am a guardian. I am gentle and fun. I fit in with their own values. And finally, the reader will am an organizer of Hamilton freeskool. be asked to bring their energy into freeskools classes and Freeskool is an act of resistance. By leave with what they need. demonstrating other ways of living and learning, These questions are intended to empower, be playful, empowering individuals, and giving back to the and insightful while falling in line with the values of community in tangible ways. Freeskool challenges freeskool which is to be playful, decentralized, antithe place of conventional learning institutions as oppressive, inclusive, and act toward resistance. the only path to knowledge. It is an experiment in liberation fuelled by love and play. Like the healthy This empowerment is important because of the forest above, freeskool is a fallen tree for a stronger urgency required to issues of violence. This will be community of resistance. It is given life with important to keep in mind as I try to explore the idea whatever energy participants bring to it and gives that resistance to violence is most effective in the day to back whatever those folks are open to taking away. day action and interactions I experience. A great way to Encouraging dissent and conflict in day to day start answering these questions is to ask who the reader life and within freeskool is integral to a healthy is and wants to be. and active participant because learning of all sorts So, who am I? In my experience the answer to requires consent. that question starts with either what one isn’t, or what It can be generally agreed upon that the one is afraid of. standardized education system is designed I am afraid of death - I see it all around me, to be nonconsensual and for the benefit and Hamilton harbour, cootes paradise. I am afraid of compatibility of very few. death - but I can accept fear, sitting. I affirm death with

In some cases, that which benefits the very few only works to destroy what those with very little depends on. Again, like the fallen tree in the forest, the actors with-in freeskool in a clear, direct and consensual way are the community that sprouts up moving skills and resources of what is left behind to be shared while individuals learn new strengths and are able to pass them on to someone else through their daily interactions. An example of these day to day interactions with-in freeskool starts with constant check-ins, making sure everyone has a space to breathe and speak. Then a free flow of knowledge and it may only sound like “men and women yakking beneath the eternal void” but it is how these ideas and feelings are shared which most resembles a resistance to violence. These interactions take the form of asking questions, to find multiple outcomes from all those who are interested. Updating information on current struggles like gender equity, prison abolishment, the mega quarry, six nations’ solidarity, erosion of top soil, and the erosion of human rights, or whatever interests learners gives a chance for personal growth and empowerment to those learning and interacting with those struggles. These conversations, in freeskools experience, lead to connections being made between colleagues that lead to new groups dedicated to particular struggles to form causing momentum to swiftly pick up and from there creative and effective action takes place. This approach creates connection to subjects and a sense of accomplishment while talking through them. However difference in a group can lead to personal conflicts that get to a heated level where language choice is crucial and reflection and responsibility is required. Skills to properly articulate needs, wants, and desires can build self-worth and self-confidence. The ability to take and accept responsibility for a mistake and being open to more than one outcome can transform a hurtful exchange to a creative one

and will take the every ounce of confidence imaginable. New strength is found in these interactions and they are contagious. Resistance to the violence that the status quo is built upon does not stop with freeskool and the groups that are created out of it. Freeskool is simply infrastructure of a bigger movement. It opens gates for those who feel that the status quo is unacceptable. That it has failed to meet their needs, and is making the world uninhabitable. And asks the question what will we do next? We can do anything. Keeping in mind that the values of freeskool do not remove anyone from the realities of the world it is obvious that work need to be done to become selfsufficient and community minded, I can’t say “here comes my dragon – goodbye!”, these values require community, nutrients, and responsibility, time, patience, arms and legs, action. I see my opening in accepting death as a glimpse into what I want with my existence and how I can give back in life. OPIRG McMaster is all about linking research with action. They are not very separate. As I am writing this I see some folks are organizing a “Know Your Rights” workshop to get people practicing asserting the rights and freedoms that are being eroded daily by police actions in downtown Hamilton. Knowledge is power, asserting that power over public servants is action, when there is a huge imbalance like there is when dealing with police. First steps in resistance are the hardest and longest steps any one will take. Becoming an active participant in life is one of these steps. Is the reader capable to do this? There is one more gateway I would like to open for those reading along. This gateway will make clear a path embedded in the values of being playful, decentralized, anti-oppressive, inclusive, and acting toward resistance in day to day life. The gate will look like this: Play. Learn to let go of self-conscious feelings, open the mind, move the body, explore expressing emotions in new ways. Make new friends with watersheds and a butterfly. Teach a silly game to a friend with enriching outcomes. Throw mud, kick rocks, throw a party and make it a safe space to be in. 13

we met our meat, corralling clams & crayfish. crustaceans scraped stones as shells scurried from carnivorous hands. brain manipulated bone&beef coaxing out creatures that retreated inside shadow. for we were found, not lost, without field guides, our historic hunt followed the footprints of all before it: hands plunged fingers clawed feet lunged, extracted food from fridge -ed lake. here, instincts overtake and reflexes are no mistake. everything may contain, poison or providence so we’re made to know the land, all that is in it, and ensure there’s leftovers after were finished. this is the thesis of self-sustenance. but instead, we lusted for fat and stopped letting mother inhibit ingestion. between pork, pig and chicken, no more distinction, our own lifeblood we drove to extinction. we became comfortable and ceased staring sustenance right in the eyes, shocked by the fact that dinner must die guiltily watched flesh sear and fry throughout the cities there echoed a cry, “I don’t shoot the gun.” but we are how we eat: consumers: destroyers: it’s nature’s way. 14

I don’t shoot the gun (Omnivore’s Roar)

ben robinson


A Letter To Other Occupiers

by Staughton Lynd

Reprinted with the author’s permission: original appeared on ZNet, February 28, 2012 “keynote” remarks on the occasion of [Occupy Youngstown’s] first public meeting on October 15, 2011. I am a member of the legal team that filed suit after our tent and burn barrel were confiscated on November 10-11. I am helping to create the OY Free University where working groups explore a variety of future projects. I do not write to comment on recent events in Oakland. Our younger daughter lived for a few years in a cooperative house situated on the border between Berkeley and Oakland. For part of that time Martha worked at a public school in Oakland where most of the children were Hispanic. A can company wanted to take the school’s recreation yard. In protest, parents courageously kept their children out of school, causing the school’s public funding to drop precipitously. As I understand it, in the end the parents prevailed and got a new rec yard. That was many years ago. It sticks in my mind as an example of the sort of activity, reaching out to the communities in which we live, that I hope Occupiers are undertaking all over the country. I Every local Occupy movement of which I am aware has begun to explore the terrain beyond the downtown public square, asking, what is to be done next? This is as it should be and we need to be gentle with ourselves and one another, recognizing the special difficulties of this task. The European middle class, before taking state power from feudal governments, built a network of new institutions within the shell of the old society: free cities, guilds, Protestant congregations, banks and corporations, and finally, parliaments. It 16

appears to be much more difficult to construct such prefigurative enclaves within capitalism, a more tightly-knit social fabric. I sense that, because of this difficulty in building long-term institutions, in much of the Occupy universe there is now an emphasis on protests, marches, “days” for this or that, symbolic but temporary occupations, and other tactics of the moment, rather than on a strategy of building ongoing new institutions and dual power. I have a particular concern about the impending confrontation in Chicago in May between the forces of Occupy and capitalist globalization. My fears are rooted in a history that may seem to many of you irrelevant. If so, stroke my fevered brow and assure me that you have no intention of letting Occupy crash and burn in the way that both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) did at the end of the Sixties. II Here, in brief, is the history that I pray we will not repeat. In August 1964, rank-and-file African Americans in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), staff of SNCC, and many summer volunteers, traveled to the convention of the national Democratic Party in Atlantic City to demand that the inter-racial delegates of the MFDP should be seated in place of the all-white delegates from the “regular,” segregationist Mississippi Democrats. It was an apocalyptic moment, made especially riveting by the televised testimony of Fannie Lou Hamer. But politically speaking, many who made the trip from the Deep South never found their way back there. A variety of causes were at work but one was that it seemed tedious to return from the mountaintop experience up North to the apparently more humdrum day-to-day movement work in Mississippi. The so-called Congressional Challenge that followed the traumatic events in Atlantic City caused many activists to continue to

spend time away from local communities in which they had been living and working. Bear with me if I continue this ancient Movement history. In November 1965, there was a gathering in Washington DC of representatives from a myriad of ad hoc student groups formed to oppose the Vietnam war. During the weeks before this occasion several friends warned me that different Left groups were preparing to do battle for control of the new antiwar movement. I assured them that their fears were needless: that kind of thing might have happened in the 1930s, but we were a new Left, committed to listening to one another and to learning from our collective experience.

follow our own consciences!” Sadly, though, the impact of Marxist-Leninist vanguardism and unrestrained individualism on a larger body of variegated protesters may be pretty much the same. In each case there may be a fixed belief that one knows the Truth and has correctly determined What Is To Be Done, which makes it an unnecessary waste of time to Listen To The Experience Of Others. Those who hold these attitudes are likely to act in a way that will wound or even destroy the larger Movement that gives them a platform.

In the period between Seattle in 1999 and September 11, 2001, many activists were into a pattern of behavior that might unkindly be described as summit-hopping. Two young men from Chicago who had been in Seattle stayed in our basement for a night on their way to the next encounter with globalization in Quebec. I was struck by the fact that, as they explained themselves, I was wrong. From the opening gavel, both when they came back to Chicago from Seattle they had Communists and Trotskyists sought to take control been somewhat at a loss about what to do next. As each of the new activist network. In the process they successive summit (Quebec, Genoa, Cancun) presented seriously disillusioned many young persons who, itself, they expected to be off to confront the Powers That perhaps involved in their first political protest, had Be in a new location, leaving in suspended state whatever come long distances in the hope of beginnings they were nurturing in “it is not violence a s su ch their local communities. So far creating a common front against the th a t m o st w orries me” war. as an outsider like myself could discern, there did not seem to Paul Booth of SDS called this meeting “the crazy be a long-term strategy directed toward creating an “otro convention.” I remember sleeping on the floor of mundo,” a qualitatively new society. somebody’s apartment next to Dave Dellinger as This brings me to the forthcoming confrontation in the two of us sought to refocus attention on what Chicago in May. My wife Alice and I were living in was happening in Vietnam. I recall pleading near Chicago in 1968. I was arrested and briefly jailed. the end of the occasion with members of the Young Although many in the Movement considered the Chicago Socialist Alliance (YSA) to be allowed into a locked events to be a great victory, I believe it is the consensus hotel room where, apparently having lost on the of historians that the national perception of what convention floor, they were forming a new national happened in Chicago contributed to Nixon’s victory in organization. the November 1968 election. More important, as some of us foresaw these predominantly Northern activists like SDS faced the identical problem at the end of their SNCC predecessors appeared to have great difficulty the 1960s with the Progressive Labor party (PL). in picking up again the slow work of “accompanying” in Essentially what PL did was to caucus beforehand, local communities. to adopt tactics for promoting its line within a larger and more diffuse organization, and then, without I dread the possibility of a re-run of this sequence of any interest in what others might have to say, events in 2012. ramming through its predecided resolutions. After a season of hateful harangues and organizational III division, very little remained. It may seem to some readers that “Staughton is once again Some Occupiers may respond, “But we’re not trying pushing his nonviolence rap.” However, although I am to take over anything! We only want to be able to concerned that small groups in the Occupy Movement continued


may contribute to unnecessary violence in Chicago, it is not violence as such that most worries me.

on earth that lends itself only to thistles, or into fertile ground. Whatever our separate experiences, we must lay aside the impulse to defend our prowess as organizers and periodically pool our new knowledge, bad as well as good, so as to learn from each other and better shape a common strategy.

While I have all my life been personally committed to nonviolence, I have never attempted to impose this personal belief on movements in which I took part. Perhaps this The danger I see is that rather than conceptualizing small is because as an historian I perceive certain group actions as a learning process, in the manner I situations for which I have not been able to have tried to describe, we might drift imagine a nonviolent resolution. “We cannot hope to into the premature conclusion that win the trust of others... nonviolence and consensus-seeking are The most challenging of these for the General Assembly, but once we is slavery. At the time of the unless we stay long American Revolution there were enough to win that trust” are out on the street sterner methods are required. about 600,000 slaves in the British colonies that became the United States. In We have a little more than two months before Chicago the Civil War, more than 600,000 Union and in May. Unlike Seattle, the folks on the other side will Confederate soldiers were killed. It was literally true that, as President Lincoln put it in his Second not be unprepared. On January 18, the Chicago City Council overwhelmingly passed two ordinances pushed Inaugural Address, every drop of blood drawn by [Mayor Rahm] Emanuel that restrict protest rules by the lash had to be “sunk” (repaid) by a drop of and expand the mayor’s power to police the summits. blood drawn by the sword. Among other things, they increase fines for violating parade rules, allow the city to deputize police officers Similarly, I cannot imagine telling Zapatistas that they should not be prepared to defend themselves from outside Chicago for temporary duty and change the if attacked by the Mexican army or paramilitaries. requirements for obtaining protest permits. Large signs and banners must now be approved, sidewalk protests I believe that self-defense in these circumstances require a permit, and permission for “large parades” meets the criteria for a “just” use of violence set will only be granted to those with a $1 million liability out by Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador insurance policy. These are permanent changes in city in his Pastoral Letters. law. My fundamental concern is that the rhetoric of “Managing Dissent in Chicago,” In These Times, March the Occupy Movement includes two propositions 2012, p. 7. It would be tragic if we failed to make good in tension with each other. We appear to say, on use of the precious period of time before all this must be the one hand, that we must seek consensus, but confronted. on the other hand, that once a General Assembly is over individuals and grouplets are free to do IV their own thing.


A careful distinction is required. In general I endorse the idea of individuals or small groups carrying out actions that the group as a whole has not, or has not yet, endorsed. I believe that such actions are like experiments. Everyone involved, those who act and those who closely observe, learns from experiences of this kind. Indeed I have compared what happens in such episodes to the parable of the Sower in the New Testament. We are the seeds. We may be cast onto stony soil,

So what do I recommend? I am eighty-two and no longer able to practice some of what I preach, but for what they may be worth, here are some responses to that question. We need to act within a wide strategic context, and engage in more than tactical exercises. We need to invite local people to join our ranks and institutions. We cannot hope to win the trust of others, especially others different from ourselves in class

background, cultural preferences, race, or gender, unless we stay long enough to win that trust one day at a time. We must be prepared to spend years in communities where there may not be many fellow radicals. In thinking about our own lives, and how we can contribute over what Nicaraguans call a “long trajectory,” we need to acquire skills that poor and oppressed persons perceive to be needed. We should understand consensus and nonviolence not as rigid rules, or as boundaries never to be crossed, but as a core or center from which our common actions radiate. Consensus is not just a style of conducting meetings. It seeks to avoid the common human tendency to say, after an action that runs into trouble, “I told you so.” The practice of consensus envisions that discussion should continue until every one in the circle is prepared to proceed with a group decision. Perhaps different ones of us have varying degrees of enthusiasm or even serious apprehensions. Anyone who has such misgivings should voice his or her concern because it may be an issue that needs to be addressed. But we must talk things out to a point where as a group we can say, “We are doing this together.” Likewise nonviolence is under some circumstances the most promising way of challenging authority. Trotsky describes in his history of the Russian Revolution how, on International Women’s Day, 1917, hundreds of women in St. Petersburg left their work in textile factories demanding Peace and Bread. The women confronted the Cossacks, the policemen on horseback, in the streets. Unarmed, the women approached the riders, saying in effect: “We have the same interests you do. Our husbands and sons are no different from yourselves. don’t ride us down!” And the Cossacks repeatedly refused to charge. After all, policemen and correctional officers are also part of the 99 percent. When I visit prisoners at the supermaximum security prison in Youngstown,

more than one officer has called out, “Remember me, Staughton? I used to be your client.” When they could not find other work in our depressed city, which has the highest rate of poverty in the United States, many former steelworkers and truck drivers took prison jobs. Nelson Mandela befriended a guard at Robben Island whose particular assignment was to watch over him. The officer, James Gregory, has written a book about it sub-titled Nelson Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend. Mr. Gregory had a seat near the front at Mr. Mandela’s inauguration. The same logic applies to soldiers in a volunteer army. Thus one Occupier has written, “A thoughtful soldier, a soldier with a conscience, is the 1%’s worst nightmare.” The Occupy Wall Street Journal, Nov. 2011, p. 2. In the end, I think, consensus decision-making and nonviolence both have to do with building a community of trust. One of my most chilling memories is to have heard a national officer of SDS talk to a large public meeting in Chicago about “icing” and “offing” persons with whom one disagreed. Actual murder of political comrades apparently took place in El Salvador, the United States, and, so I am told, Ireland. Everything depends on whether two persons who differ about what should next be done nevertheless trust each other to proceed within the invisible boundaries of their common commitment. A principal lesson of the 1960s is that maintenance and nurturing of that kind of trust becomes more difficult as a movement or organization grows larger. Here the Zapatistas have something to teach us. They do have a form of representative government in that delegates from different villages are elected to attend coordinating assemblies. But all governing is done within the cultural context of the ancient Mayan practice of “mandar obediciendo,” that is, governing in obedience to those who are represented. Thus, after the uprising of January 1, 1994 negotiations began continued


with emissaries from the national government. If a question arose as to which the Zapatista delegates were not instructed, they informed their counterparts that they had to go back to the villages for direction All this lies down the road. For the moment, let’s remind ourselves of the sentiment attributed by Charles Payne to residents working with SNCC in the Mississippi Delta half a century ago: they understood that “maintaining a sense of community was itself an act of resistance.” [photo of Staughton and Alice Lynd by Martha Lynd-Altan]



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Bi-Annual print edition of Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) at McMaster newsletter. Articles and works related to our voluntee...

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